Today it’s my third and final review in the Inspector Chopra/Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series for First Monday Crime. I’ve really enjoyed catching up with Chopra and Baby Ganesha his rather unusual partner in crime-fighting and this was another brilliant book. I’ll tell you my thoughts in just a moment, as soon as we’ve seen what the book is all about.
The Official Book Blurb
The enchanting new Baby Ganesh Agency novel sees Inspector Chopra and his elephant sidekick investigating the dark side of Bollywood.
Mumbai thrives on extravagant spectacles and larger-than-life characters.
But even in the city of dreams, there is no guarantee of a happy ending.
Rising star and incorrigible playboy Vikram Verma has disappeared, leaving his latest film in jeopardy. Hired by Verma’s formidable mother to find him, Inspector Chopra and his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, embark on a journey deep into the world’s most flamboyant movie industry.
As they uncover feuding stars, failed investments and death threats, it seems that many people have a motive for wanting Verma out of the picture.
And yet, as Chopra has long suspected, in Bollywood the truth is often stranger than fiction…
Well, if you liked the first two books in the Baby Ganesh series, then you will absolutely love this one. Full of the mystery and unique style of tension which has come to signify the tone of the first two books, The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star sees our intrepid Inspector Chopra come up against his old nemesis Rao once more, but this time it seems that the game may well be up for Chopra as his investigation into the missing Bollywood bad boy, Vikram Verma, plays right into Rao’s hands.
Pressured by his wife Poppy into going to a live show featuring Bollywood’s latest heart-throb, Vikram Verma, Chopra, Poppy and Baby Ganesha, also a massive Bollywood fan, find themselves bearing witness to a fantastic spectacle of dance and music … and a rather unexpected and almost imperceptible vanishing act. Chopra notes that something is off about the final performance of the show, but it is not until Vikram’s mother, former Bollywood goddess, at least in Chopra’s eyes, Bijli Verma contacts him that Chopra realises quite what it was that was bothering him. Vikram has gone missing, not having been seen since the finale the night before, and his mother, and now Chopra, are concerned for his safety. Bijli convinces Chopra to investigate and to look into her son’s disappearance, and while there is no direct evidence, Chopra soon begins to suspect foul play. When a rather chilling ransom demand is received, the stakes are raised, but could it all be too late.
I love the way in which Vaseem Khan is able to capture the spirit of Mumbai and India in his writing, and this is all the more obvious when coming to describe the opulence and, in this novel perhaps on occasion, underhand nature of the Bollywood movie industry. The sense of every man for himself and the whole idea of he rising star whose ego has grown too large for his own good is so brilliantly created on the page that you are not sure whether or not to feel sorry for Vikram, no matter how dire his situation may be. But then is his cockiness derived from being spoilt as a child or is he naturally arrogant? Either way, does anything warrant a kidnapping or possibly worse?
Running alongside the main investigation is a strange case which is left to Chopra’s associate, Rangwalla, to investigate. Rangwalla is summoned to see the Queen of the Eunuchs who is concerned about the behaviour of a certain ‘client’ who has been paying for several of her Eunuchs to visit his grand house and yet taking no part in their visits, just simply watching them and having them play together. Despite nothing untoward having taken place, and the girls having been paid handsomely, The Queen has her doubts and engages Rangwalla to find out the truth about what is happening in the house. As the girls cannot give Rangwalla directions and nobody knows who their mysterious benefactor is, there is only one way Ragwalla can do this. By going undercover. This leads to some of the most humorous moments in the book, but also some of the most heartbreaking. If you are not moved by the story Rangwalla uncovers then there is definitely something wrong.
Khan’s portrayal of the Eunuchs is without criticism, judgement or prejudice. There is no stereotypical presentation. Their situation, that of a society now finally given gender status within India is handled with care and respect and whilst still considered an oddity and a sub-species by most of the country, you can’t help but feel for them, many of whom are not in their current position through choice. And it is up to Rangwalla to determine who is the subject of this investigation, the revelation of which will be truly surprising.
Another story which is handled with care and which demonstrates the kindly nature of Chopra’s young ward, Irfan, is that of a homeless blind woman who he prevents from being attacked by a group of children. She is someone who has been written off as a mad woman due to her confused state and terrible condition. It is only when Irfan, himself once a child of the street, shows the old woman some kindness that you see the true nature of the woman behind the ‘madness’. There is a kind of kinship between the two and what occurs later in the book certainly made me smile.
What I had noticed was that there felt a little less of the personal element about this book, perhaps because we have already learned so much about Chopra and his family in previous books and the two investigations themselves were full on and at times action packed. In fact, in trying to pay a ransom demand, Chopra finds himself in great danger, allowing Rao the chance he needs to rid himself of Chopra once and for all. Much like Ganesha’s brief dalliance with incarceration in the previous book, Chopra finds himself behind bars, but it is the extent to which Rao will go to ruin Chopra that takes you by surprise.
We learned in the last book that Chopra had made some powerful enemies, and the extent of their influence is clearly shown here. Chopra’s life is most certainly on the line and the tension in these chapters was palpable. If I hadn’t been driving I’d have probably literally been on the edge of my seat as I really couldn’t see how Chopra would get out of this one. But then Chopra also has some powerful friends, or if not quite powerful then at the very least resourceful.
I really enjoyed this book, the twists, the turns, the action and the more poignant and heartbreaking moments all combining beautifully to form what I believe is the best book in the series yet. The conclusion perhaps wasn’t totally surprising, some rather large hints being dropped along the way, but I don’t think that either of the first two books made me feel quite so much like my heart was in my throat, nor have I felt quite so moved as I was in reading this with the possible exception of when it look liked Ganesha’s game was up in the last book. A brilliant addition to the series and I cannot wait for book four.
The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star is available now from the following retailers.
Vaseem Khan will be appearing at First Monday Crime in November You can book tickets to hear him and three other fabulous authors in conversation with Barry Forshaw, and learn more about First Monday Crime, at their website here.
About the Author
Vaseem Khan is the bestselling author of the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency novels, a cosy crime series based in Mumbai, India and featuring a baby elephant. The first book in the series, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, was a Times bestseller, a Waterstones’ paperback of the year, and an Amazon Best Debut. His latest book in the series is The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star.